Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. George R. Goethals

Second Advisor

Dr, Joanne Ciulla

Third Advisor

Dr. James Monks


“Skyrocketing,” a word frequently and hyperbolically used by columnists in the present age, is the verb du jour when describing the increasing price of college tuition in America over the past thirty years. The media does not seem to be exaggerating in this case, though. The cost of attending a collegiate institution, in the year 2013, has increased by 631 percent since the year 1978, two and a half times the national rate of inflation.1 In essence, the increase of price of a degree is well over twice the increase in the price of groceries during the same timeframe. Thus, higher education is seemingly becoming more expensive and unattainable for Americans, a cause of great concern within the nation’s political and economic discourse. In light of this trend, Americans yearn for more access and affordability in the academic realm. Recently, in February of 2013, President Obama claimed, “We can’t allow higher education to be a luxury in this country. It’s an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford.” In an era when the nation longs for more affordability and scrutinizes institutions that implement great price hikes, one would think it might even be beneficial to offer a lower price to prospective students. At the least, it would seem counter-intuitive that any university ought to raise its sticker-price by any amount greater than the national inflation rate.

However, in 2004-05, Dr. William Cooper, then the president of the University of Richmond, did exactly that. Beginning in the fall semester of 2004, the university increased its price of attendance by 27 percent and its price of tuition by 31 percent, ultimately increasing the sticker-price by $7,000 per student. The action was essentially unprecedented by a small, liberal arts college like Richmond, or, for that matter, any postsecondary institution. What’s more, the university had previously positioned itself in the marketplace as a school which provided value to its students, offering a strong degree for a great price. Raising the price, in this manner, was most definitely a daring act of leadership. Cooper was lauded by some for his resolve towards his vision for the university and vilified by others for making an already affluent university more expensive and supposedly less accessible for prospective students. Considering the pressure put upon universities to control their costs of attendance, it begs one to question how Cooper could justify such an increase. Why did Richmond, an already flourishing and well-endowed institution, need more tuition revenue? Why move away from the university’s former mission of offering value to its students? Most importantly, how could Cooper’s decision ever be determined an act of “good” leadership, considering both leadership effectiveness and ethics?

In this paper, I will address the questions above. I will first present the contextual elements most relevant to Dr. William Cooper’s leadership decision in 2004-05. In chapter one, I will describe the nation’s broad, socioeconomic landscape relating to education. Next, I will explain the unique intricacies of the economics of higher education, in contrast with traditional microeconomic theory. Afterward, I will delve further into matters specific to the University of Richmond within the marketplace for postsecondary education, including the school’s market position, its competitor schools and the ranking systems used to evaluate college quality. In chapter two, I will present the narrative of Dr. Cooper’s decision itself, in light of chapter one’s contextual elements. Finally, in chapter three, I will discuss an evaluation of the decision, using theories of leadership effectiveness and leadership ethics, reinforced by an understanding of the economics of higher education. I will consider each contextual level of the decision, from the university at-large to society as a whole, in my evaluation. Ultimately, I will come to a conclusion whether Dr. William Cooper’s decision to raise the sticker-price of Richmond by 27 percent in 2004-05 was an example of “good” leadership in higher education.